Kathmandu monorail: Just a pipe dream or reality in the making?


Travelling on a train has not only been a long held dream of Valley denizens, but it can also provide an alternative to the congested public vehicles plying on traffic-laden roads.

For a long time, the government has envisioned train transportation as a suitable option in the Valley and the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) has already signed an agreement with the China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC), the stateowned Chinese company, to introduce monorail in the Valley.

However, despite the initial agreement, challenges remain ahead for the actual implementation of the monorail project.

Progressive steps

“We had been studying the feasibility for operating the Kathmandu monorail project since 2012 and finally initiated the process to carry out its detailed project report in September 2018,” says Mahesh Kafle, Director at KMC.

According to Kafle, the stateowned CRCC has already submitted its feasibility study report of the 27.5-km Ring Road Monorail project to KMC and Lalitpur Metropolitan City (LMC) on September 13, 2018.

“The report says that the entire monorail project can be completed within three years, which will cost around Rs 116 billion. Once the CRCC submits the detailed project report (DPR), works will head further for the project’s initiation,” informs Kafle.

According to him, the monorail project in the Valley will have 21 stations, and of the project’s total length, almost seven kilometres fall in Lalitpur while the remaining section will pass through Kathmandu.

“Although CRCC has expressed its interest to invest in the project, the contract can be given to any foreign contractor(s) who ensure timely completion of the project and meet our requirements once the DPR is finalised,” says Gyanendra Karki, Spokesperson at KMC.

According to Karki, the KMC will now study the report and hold consultations with the government officials concerned for investment modality.

“The government has shown interest in the project and we will take all the necessary steps to expedite the project as soon as possible. Upon completion, the Ring Road monorail project will bring about a significant change in improving the Valley’s public transportation and traffic,” he adds.

Benefits for the Valley

The proposed monorail project can be very helpful for the Valley dwellers in many ways.

“The monorail we have envisioned has a narrow body so it can run on a narrow elevated tracks rested on pillars along the roads easily, so no houses will be dismantled during the construction of its infrastructure. Moreover, it will run on electricity, so it will help control the Valley’s air pollution,” says Kafle.

According to him, each compartment of the monorail, the number of which hasn’t been fixed yet, will have a 200 seating capacity, which will ease traffic congestion on the Valley roads.

“The project can be handed over to the government after 30 years of commercial operation, but so far the modality of investment hasn’t been finalised,” he adds.

According to Kafle, the Chinese team has assured that the project’s DPR would be completed very soon, which includes environmental impacts, project implementation phases, designs and technical specification of the rail system, among others.

“As commuting by monorail could be an effective way to save people’s time, it might prove helpful in boosting the country’s economy. The train fare will also be comparatively cheaper than other public vehicles, which would be good for those with a limited pocket,” adds Kafle.

Hurdles and challenges

Railway transport is the need of the hour to ease Valley’s worsening traffic condition, but it may also bring along many problems. According to Balaram Mishra, Director General at the Department of Railways (DoRW), the monorail is not good in an earthquake pronecity like Kathmandu, while metro train, which runs on or underground, is best suited a for long-term transport solution in the Valley.

“The metro rail has a system to carry thousands of passengers using two tracks, whereas monorail has a single rail track with limited seats and the whole system gets interrupted if there is a minor problem on the track,” he adds.

However, Kafle hints at the economic feasibility of the monorail as opposed to the metro train. “The cost of operating metro train is way higher than the monorail. That’s why we have decided to bring it to Kathmandu and its passenger capacity will be enough for the Valley’s citizens,” claims Kafle.

According to Mishra, the lack of experts in the railway sector is one of the main problems in the country.

“Even after its operation, experts are needed for repair and technical suggestions, which the country lacks. So, the government should create capable manpower before operating monorail in the Valley,” he adds.

The other challenge is about attracting foreign investors to the country’s railway projects. Ashish Gajurel, Transport Expert at the Investment Board of Nepal (IBN), says, “Investors want to invest in lucrative sectors such as hydropower and don’t find investing in railways profitable as it requires huge investment with very less returns. This has led to the lack of rail infrastructure in the country.”

Lack in coordination

“The DoRW is the authorised body to deal with the overall railway operation in the country, but it seems like the government and other authorities don’t want the department to grow,” Mishra says.

According to him, whether it was signing an agreement with China to bring the monorail to the Valley, or carrying out a feasibility study of the Kerung-Kathmandu railway, no information was shared with the department by government, which Mishra finds quite disappointing.

Similarly, Maha Prasad Adhikari, CEO, IBN, says, “We are unaware of the progress of the monorail project and haven’t received any written document regarding the pact and detailed feasibility report done by the CRCC.”

According to Adhikari, any firm that wants to build the monorail in the Valley needs to approach the IBN for the project’s approval.

However, Kafle clarifies, “The CRCC is currently carrying out the DPR of the project and we can provide its details to IBN only after its completion.”

Expanding connectivity

According to Mishra, currently it has already completed the DPR of Mechi-Mahakali Electrified Railway Project of 1,000 km, and the feasibility study of Kathmandu- Raxaul railway has already been completed.

“We have also conducted several feasibility studies for bringing rails to Kathmandu for a long time, and the government should support us as well,” he adds.

According to Mishra, the IBN has already completed the DPR on Nagdhungha-Dhulikhel railway and it has been waiting to provide the tender for the work to begin. “We are also working on the Budhanilkantha- Khokana railway in coordination with National Planning Commission (NPC) and the IBN. As the Kathmandu-Tarai Fast Track connects Khokana, the Kathmandu- Raxual railway can be excellent for delivering goods easily from Lalitpur, which can be good to economy,” he adds.

Ground reality

Bhushan Tuladhar, CEO at Sajha Yatayat, says, “Only bringing monorail cannot solve the traffic problems faced by Valley denizens as passengers will still need bus stations at several places to get on and off the monorail. Moreover, only operating monorail around the Ring Road can’t help traffic on inner roads in Valley.”

According to Tuladhar, along with introducing monorail, improving road condition and increasing public buses should also be introduced with an integrated plan to manage Valley traffic.

However, Kamal Ghimire, a resident of Gaushala, feels that the plan might be too farfetched. “In a country where authorities find it hard to repair even puddles and potholes on time, it is hard to believe the monorail operating in the Valley. Although the monorail can be a good medium of transport in the Valley, it should not get the fate similar to that of the Melamchi water project and people should be able benefit from it in a timely manner,” he says.